It's not a debate, in any meaningful sense of the word, unless they break the rules. It's a joint press conference, and the only thing that makes it interesting is that they will be in the same room and might react to each other (within prescribed limits). But it's great political theater, and there are a lot of people who really do seem to care about how the candidates perform (and that is the right word) under these conditions, conditions which are relevant only to past and future debate-like appearances.
That said, I have a few predictions about how the Thursday debate, on Foreign Policy, will go.
- Japan will be mentioned, at most, twice: once as a member of the coalition of the willing (bribed, not bullied), and once in regard to the Six-Party North Korean nuclear crisis negotiations.
- China, the largest country in the world, will be mentioned only in connection with North Korea. They won't talk about (mostly because they won't be asked about) their rapid industrial growth or consumer growth (and rapidly rising demand for oil), our import-export imbalance, their strategic position, Taiwan (ok, there's about a 1/5 chance Taiwan could come up), internal ethnic tensions, rising nationalism, or the recent shift in power from (rather US-friendly) Jiang Zemin to (Euro-friendly) Hu Jintao. Our China and Taiwan policies have had exactly one noteworthy shift since Nixon-Kissinger -- dropping human rights issues because they weren't listening anyway -- and it isn't likely to change anytime soon unless China does something dramatic.
- India, the second largest country in the world, might be mentioned in connection with its tensions with Pakistan over Kashmir and nuclear weapons, but otherwise we'll have to wait until they talk about the economy, when outsourcing will come up.
- South Korea will get the usual mention if North Korea comes up, as well as a mention if military force redistribution is raised.
- North Korea will almost certainly be discussed, which will make Kim Jong Il very happy, particularly as neither of them seem inclined to say (or do) anything concrete. I doubt Kerry will contrast North Korea and Iraq policy but it would be fun to see how the spin on that played out if he did.
- Vietnam..... boy, I hope not.
- South and East Asia will not get any other substantive mentions.
- A few other Asia-related topics they won't talk about:
- HIV/AIDS (except perhaps with regard to promises to Africa that were not kept), either Thai successes or the coming explosion in China and India
- SARS and the threat of new communicable diseases
- immigration policy (that'll be a domestic issue, if at all, and mostly Mexico)
Post-Event Update: Turns out, I was being overly optimistic.